Writing this review is one of the happiest moments of my entire career as a reviewer. I love Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s comic so very much. I love the characters. I love the concept. I love the world. And at long last I’m reviewing an adaptation. With that love is it even possible to be objective? Not really but I’m going to try.
Actually it’s a lot easier than I suggested. Runaways the comic and Runaways the tv show are actually quite different entities. They have the same basic premise, a group of teens discover their parents are involved in a child sacrifice ring, and the same central characters but they diverge wildly beyond that. The show gives equal focus to the parents and the reasons for the sacrifices are different. The entire premise of the characters running is seemingly abandoned until the end. Additionally all manner of details have been changed throughout including a race and age lift for the youngest member Molly. I could spend this review focusing entirely on the changes and write an epic piece.
But that’s unfair to the show which is honestly first rate with one big caveat. This show is a triumph of character and world building. I was invested in this story at every step of the way, compulsively watching four episodes in one day at one point because I was so hooked. It’s a bullet of momentum.
It doesn’t hurt that the show is built on mystery. We get very little exposition early on and only slowly get more. And I mean slowly. At season’s end there are big questions still out for answering. While I loved playing along with the mystery, if it had been cancelled after season one this would be a very different review. However this is indeed season one and I’m willing to let the show set itself up. Especially if it’s this engaging.
It’s a great looking show too. A lot of shows are shot in California but almost all pretend they’re not. This one is set there and handles it as a character almost. There is atmosphere nonstop on this. I love how grimy and uncomfortable it gets. This is unique.
The show, like the comic, is built on characters and that’s the real strong suit here. Everybody is unique and notable which says something in a show with no less than 15 major characters. The casting is spot on with Lyrica Okano as goth witch Nico and Allegra Acosta as the younger member Molly particularly notable. I also have to praise Ariela Barer as SJW Gert, a tricky role nailed.
All that said it’s time to hit my other big issue with the show. The parents take up a ton of the show and it’s weird because on one hand I was interested in their plots but on the other I wanted to go back to the kids every time. This isn’t shocking as the comic wasn’t about them and I was here for the comic material. But it creates a frustrating uneven quality as if the show didn’t trust itself to be about the kids. Again, it’s really quite gripping material and I was always interested. But I’m not sure it had to be 50/50. 66/33 would be fine. I also have to stop to note the arch villain is none other that Julian “eurotrash Doom” McMahon and he’s really good.
Even though I have issues and it’s not all that faithful, I am ultimately highly satisfied. Why? Well the finale really made it all clear to me. By the end of the finale the pieces of the setup were finished. It became clear this was act one of a larger story. And as an act I, it did the trick. I have to see where it goes next. I had a great time getting there too.
And then there’s the best thing. At the end of the day this more than scratched my itch for a Runaways show. At least a few times an ep I got a dose of geek joy at seeing something I loved in motion. Often it was just a character moment but the big effects scenes killed too. By contrast not once in the 300 million dollar Justice League did I come near that feeling. When the magic is there, it’s there. It’s absolutely here.
Some thoughts that didn’t easily fit in the review
- Chase/Gert are perfect here. Their flirtation kills and you genuinely like them together.
- Given that I’m annoyed the comic more or less dodged Nico/Karolina after Vol. 1, I’m surprised the show at least started down that path and I dig it. There’s a real adorable quality to their interaction.
- I have no idea if the traitor in the group will be such in the show. I love that.
- The effects here are so good. Karolina’s glowing looked great. Old Lace, and yes I geeked when her name was given, is a nice mix of CGI and animatronic work. It doesn’t look movie grade but it looks good.
- Can James Marsters play nice guys? Spike. Victor Stein. Lex Luthor. Brainiac. He’s almost too good here. I came to wince in fear when he was on screen.
- Making the show one long slam on Scientology was fun.
Season two should arrive at year’s end. I’m in.